Category: Organizing Your Genealogy Files

May 7th, 2014

The Benefits of Recording a Genealogy Research Journal

Taking notes about the research you perform on your ancestors can read great genealogical rewards. Not only does it serve as a backup for your memory, but it can be used as a map for future research. For a journal to serve as an effective research tool however, you need to records both positive and negative results. The will save you time and energy in future projects, as the positive entries will help you to fond records faster, while the negative will save you from repeating previous mistakes, or consulting records where your ancestors can’t be found.

How to Organize Your Research Journal
You’ll get the best results from using a research journal if you keep it organized in a simple, straight-forward manner. A good layout that generally works well is to use columns with the headings)

  • Date Searched
  • Records Sought
  • Name Variations Searched
  • Repository Searched
  • Description and Source Citation
  • Results

Let’s go over each heading briefly to better understand the benefits of recording such data, and the best way to enter it into your journal.

Date Searched

The immediate benefit of imputing the date is obvious, but an additional benefit is that if the records get updated, you will know if you have searched the most recent, or if you can look for new results in an updated database.

Records Sought
Again it’s obvious why you would record the types of ancestry record you searched in. This helps to avoid wasting time with duplicate searches in databases you have already consulted, but also narrows the field of possible records still to be searched.

Name Variations
Many researchers overlook this very important entry. There are so many spelling variations of both forenames and surnames, especially in older records, that it is critical you record each variation you use. Also record the various methods you used during your searches. For example, did you search for first name or last name only, or for results in a particular city, county, state, or overseas locations? This listing can also serve as a name variation database and search strategy for when you search other records in the future.

Repository Searched
Indicating where the records were found whether it is at a brick-and-mortar archive or library, or an online database, allows you to quickly visit that source if you seek similar r records in the future. Make sure you indicate whether the resource was online, on microfilm, in a book, or other resource. Be as specific as you can to make it as easy as possible to revisit that repository and the records you found there.

Source Citation
This should list a description of the records you found in the Records Sought column and all of the information you found in them, as well as the sources of that information, be they primary or secondary. You can simply list citations such as the microfilm number or book title and author, or you could write about it, describing everything in a description field.

Remember, record both positive and negative results for every search you conduct. This helps you to quickly sort out which records are useful for your family and which are not. Having this information readily available allows you to efficiently plan research strategies, speeding up results and helping you to avoid genealogical roadblocks.

A genealogy research journal allows you to quickly see where you are in your research, allowing you to pick up exactly where you left off if you need to stop for awhile. They are a great tool which you can refine to suit your own particular research model over time, and you can even compile one journal per ancestor. A final bonus is that these journals can also serve as a guide to any family members who may continue your research in the future.

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October 2nd, 2013

Be Sure to Backup that Valuable Data!

We spend hours, days, weeks, months, and years accumulating our genealogical data. It would be a shame to see all of that hard work wiped out by a single computer or other hardware failure. I back up my research data regularly, and not just in one place! As easily as a main computer could crash, so could an external hard drive fail, so I use an online storage facility to save my work as well.

I am still using an Edge DiskGo as my primary backup source. I have had it for eight years now, and as modern technology goes, it’s quite the dinosaur! I bought my Edge in 2005, it has 75GB of storage space, and file transfer is fast and easy. The same company makes flash drives in 8, 16, and 32GB sizes, which has won the Silver Award by Of course there are many newer and more modern external drives that are faster and have more space, it doesn’t matter which one you use; just that you use one.

I backup my work manually, but there is also software such as TimeMachine for Mac, and if you have Windows 7 or Vista, you already have a fairly decent backup program on your computer. Windows XP also has a built in backup program, but I have heard horror stories about people trying to recover that data when they switch to an updated Windows program, so I can’t recommend using it. The great thing about automated programs is that you can just set it and forget it, and your backups occur regularly.

The fact is that a fire, flood, or other disaster can not only destroy your computer, but the external hard drive attached to it. It is somewhat risky to have only a single, physical backup, so I backup my data online as well. There are as many options for online backups as there are for physical ones, but sites like Mozy and CrashPlan are popular options for many genealogists. They are easy to use, though they are pricey compared to services like Amazon’s Glacier and S3. The Amazon services are effective, but very complicated to set up and use, so I can’t recommend them for the average user.

Dropbox is another effective program to use. It is very convenient, and I send copies of all of my documents to it. What’s more, it’s free! Basically Dropbox serves as a home for all of your documents and photos, as well as any other files, and it automatically displays on all of your computers and phones. Alternatively you can access your files on the Dropbox website. The only downside, if you can consider it one, is that whoever you want to share your files with needs to have Dropbox installed as well. The initial free version gives you 2.5GB of storage, but for $8.25 per month you can get 100GB of storage space.

Don’t forget flash drives as an option. They come in a variety of sizes, take up little space, and can be easily transported if you want to share your genealogy data with others. The key is to always have at least one backup, and to backup your work regularly.

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January 29th, 2013

Citing Genealogy Resources, Does it Really Matter?

I remember when I was in school and preparing term papers, I was required to prepare a bibliography of my source materials. I also had to include footnotes and endnotes for individual references to facts or quotes. Little did I know at the time, but that was great training for my genealogy research! It is however the scholarly way to document research, as it provides details that the reader or subsequent researchers can use to retrace your work.

When you are collecting information for your genealogy research such as evidence, pictures, documents, or other materials, it is essential to record where you found them. Not only does this provide you with a record, but it helps other researchers to retrace your steps and find the material you used so that they can examine it personally. This helps them to locate important data that they may need for their own project, and provides you with a back-up system for verifying your data.

Everyone interprets data differently. The fact that you might be looking for different information influences the way you interpret the data you find along the way and how you apply it to your own family history. An ancestor’s name that may be insignificant to you could be the missing link another researcher is looking for in their own family history.

If you are not sure how to apply or format citations, you can easily find some listed in any historical book, especially biographies or books covering historical events. Genealogy citations follow the same format as books, journals, magazines, and other printed materials, so copying their format is acceptable. No matter what structure your citation follows, one thing that is extremely important is that it contains the essential data. As long as another researcher can use the information you have listed to locate a record or other data they need, they won’t care about the format it is presented in.

So that you can see how easy it is to include citations, I’ll demonstrate a few popular ones for you. Printed materials make up a sizable portion of what we may need to cite, so I’ll show a common method of citing a reference to a book. You may notice when you are reading some reference books that there are small numbers listed next to particular words or sentences. These designate that a citation is listed below. You can also use an asterisk or other symbols, but if you are citing many sources, numbers are generally the best way to go.

Reference Book Citation

Let’s say we are researching an ancestor and come across some information about them in a book called “History of Family Morgan.” The first thing you would do in your citation is write the name of author followed by the title of the book (in italics), the physical location of the material (where someone can find it), and then the name of the publishing company. It would look like this:

Morgan, Michael Lee, History of Family Morgan, Baltimore,MD: Family Research Publishing Co.

Newspaper Article (Printed) Citation 

If you are citing a printed newspaper article, you need to refer to the author of the article, the date it was published, the title of the article, the name of the newspaper, and the page it was located on. When you are referencing the page number, simply place p. before the number. If the article covers more than one page, you would use pp. If you are citing an Obituary, you put that in place of the article title.

Your citation would look as follows:

Smith, W.G. (2009, November 17). Obituaries – The Daily Telegram, p. 32.

If you are citing information from Online Obituaries or newspaper articles, you follow the same format; only include the internet address at the end so it looks like this:

Smith, W.G. (2009, November 17). Obituaries – The Boston Daily Telegram, p. 32.

The amount of information you need to include varies with the different source materials you use, what information you found, and where it is physically located. It is best to learn about as many different citation formats as you can. This helps you to do a professional job, and is a major help to other researchers.

If you are looking for a great publication to help with that, Elizabeth Shown Mills’ book Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifact to Cyberspace is an excellent publication. It explains the various types of citations very clearly, and can help you to present your work in a scholarly manner that you can be proud of, and other researchers will appreciate and respect!

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September 21st, 2010

Top 10 Tips for Starting Your Family Tree Research

Whether you are an experienced genealogist or a new comer to the hobby, it’s always good to have some help when you don’t know where to start. The following is a kind of checklist you can use to help you get past obstacles in your research.

Download a family tree template then use this checklist of 10 steps as a basic guideline to get started in building your family tree:


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August 27th, 2010

Little Known Ways to Start Your Family Tree Research

Asking your family is the best place to begin in tracing your family tree. But there are other things you can do to begin your family tree research.

Official Documentation

Quite possibly you’ll find a wealth of genealogy treasure and history right under your nose at home. Your mother or grandmother most likely have some official documents stashed away somewhere that can be of immense value. Some of these would include:


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February 18th, 2010

Your Genealogy Files: Quick and Easy Tips for Organizing Your Research

Organizing your genealogy files is probably the last thing on your mind right now. Your research is going well and you are beside yourself. Each day of research brings a new revelation. To get it all down before you forget, you automatically grab the piece of paper closest to you and write. Before you know it, those bits of paper become a mountain of notes. Today we have some quick and easy tips to help you organize your genealogy files.

1. Sort it out – Stick with the genealogy research plan you carefully drafted. You will stay focused and organized. If you do not have a plan, now is a good time to create one. With your plan in hand, set up your systems: a manual and an electronic system. You don’t have to add bells and whistles, manila file folders and your computer should do the trick.


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